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ECE Alumna Making Big Radar Waves at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Dragana Perkovic-Martin and UMass Alums

Dragana Perkovic-Martin and UMass Alums

Perkovic-Martin with pictures of her "babies," her child and the Doppler Scatterometer

Perkovic-Martin with pictures of her "babies."

Group Supervisor Dragana Perkovic-Martin, who earned her Ph.D. from the UMass Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department in 2008, is currently leading DopplerScatt (for Doppler Scatterometer), a NASA Instrument Incubator Project in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) in Pasadena. DopplerScatt was featured in the NASA Earth Science Technology Office's 2016 Annual Report (see Page 3). See NASA press release about DopplerScatt »

In the accompanying photo (courtesy of NASA/JPL-CalTech), Perkovic-Martin posed with her DopplerScatt colleagues and UMass alums involved in the development of this instrument (L-R): Perkovic-Martin, Karthik Srinivasan (M.S. 2007), Mauricio Sanchez Barbetty (Ph.D. 2012), Ninoslav Majurec (Ph.D. 2008), and Chad Baldi (M.S. 2014).

Perkovic-Martin has made a protracted odyssey from her birthplace in Serbia to become a key radar systems engineer at the JPL, a journey that included her formative studies in electrical engineering as an undergraduate at the University of Malta and as a doctoral student at the UMass ECE department, where she worked in the Microwave Remote Sensing Laboratory (MIRSL). Recently, she also became a mother.

“To do system engineering, you have to know at least a little about a lot of very different things,” says Perkovic-Martin, who is also working on the descent radar for the Mars 2020 Rover. “My graduate school gave me good training for that. We built radars, put them together, took them out to the field, processed data. JPL to me feels just like that graduate school experience – just on a very large scale.”

While at UMass, Perkovic-Martin contributed to MIRSL’s Dual Beam Interferometer project and the development of a solid-state marine radar and imaging wind and rain profiler through software and hardware development, as well as data processing. Her research expertise is in microwave radar system design, remote sensing of the ocean surface, and remote sensing of the extreme weather phenomena.

At the JPL, Perkovic-Martin’s Radar System and Instrument Engineering Group performs end-to-end systems engineering functions for radar instrument flight projects. In addition to spaceborne and airborne radar remote sensing instruments, her group supports radars required for spacecraft guidance, navigation, and control. The overall objective of the group’s activities is to ensure the continued technical success of JPL radar flight projects.

The official role for Perkovic-Martin’s project with DopplerScatt is doing the design and testing for the “Instrument Concept for Simultaneous Measurements of Ocean Surface Vector Winds and Currents.” 

As Perkovic-Martin explains, ocean surface currents impact heat transport, surface momentum, gas fluxes, ocean productivity, and marine biological communities, as well as social impacts on shipping and disaster management. Meanwhile, ocean vector winds are a key variable governing the transfer of momentum, gases, and latent heat between the atmosphere and the ocean.

“The ability to simultaneously measure ocean winds and currents would improve the accuracy of both individual measurements, as there is an intrinsic two-way coupling between them,” says Perkovic-Martin. “DopplerScatt is a Ka-band pencil beam conically scanning airborne scatterometer being developed under ESTO’s Instrument Incubator Program.”

Perkovic-Martin adds that the airborne architecture will be easily scalable to space to form the basis of the next-generation spaceborne Earth Science Missions aimed at better understanding climate and weather and ocean circulation.

“Through the implementation of the project we will demonstrate the first simultaneous measurements of the ocean surface winds and currents that can be scaled to wide-swath space-borne observations using a single cost-effective instrument,” observes Perkovic-Martin.

Perkovic-Martin has also worked on a follow-up mission to NASA’s QuikSCAT (Quick Scatterometer) mission, called the ISS-RapidScat, which launched in fall of 2014 and successfully operated from the International Space Station until 2016. Its primary mission was to measure the surface wind speed and direction over the ice-free global oceans. (June 2017)